Pickups are the automotive landscape for bragging rights, best-in-class superlatives, and sales volume. The Ford F-150 has often enjoyed bragging rights and is generally the single best-selling vehicle nameplate in the world.
Completely redesigned, the new 2009 Ford F-150 lineup aims to keep it that way.
The 2009 Ford F-150 lineup offers a plethora of models for virtually every occasion or occupation, starting at just more than $20,000 and climbing well beyond double that. The F-150 line offers something on the order of 65 permutations, more than many car companies' entire lineups. All are capable of work or play, even those models with luxurious interiors.
Three V8 engines of two sizes are offered, including a flex-fuel unit that will run on E85 (ethanol). All models use an automatic transmission of four or six speeds, and the majority are available with rear- or four-wheel drive. One exception: The FX off-road package is available only with 4WD V8 models.
The F-150 lineup runs the gamut from wash-off vinyl flooring and a two-door Regular Cab to leather-lined premium four-door models with as much rear seat legroom as the front of most luxury sedans: Within those extremes lies something for everyone. Yet even the least-expensive F-150 isn't boring; it leaves room for customization, does the work required and keeps overhead down.
2009 marks the introduction of the Platinum model, a further step up in fancy from the Lariat or King Ranch choices and bringing the total variety count to seven. Although that makes the total number of builds and choices mind-boggling, believe it or not it has been simplified.
With one of the deepest beds in the half-ton pickup segment, the F-150 has generous cargo volume out back and a maximum payload rating of 3,030 pounds. A properly equipped Regular Cab F-150 is rated to tow up to 11,300 pounds; other models max out in the 9000-pound range. (The 2009 Ford Super Duty range of heavy-duty pickups is covered in a separate New Car Test Drive review.)
In the world of pickups, styling boundaries are determined by a three-box layout: one for the engine, one for people, one for cargo. And the 2009 Ford F-150 shows the evolution of 70 years of function by massaging the look of the previous generation.
Angular lines mean it's easier to clean, easier to park (everything is relative at 20 feet), and gives maximum inside volume for outside space. Some bulge to the hood and large grille openings imply power, as does the higher altitude of 4WD models; many models have big graphics to ensure everyone knows what it is. The F-150 is easily recognized in any trim level by the circular front lights within a rectangular housing, stepped front window ledge, and the tall bed. It's hip to be square.
The front door edge that allows a lower glass line at the front is stylish but also very useful; it allows a better view of front quarters near the truck and means you can have a good-sized mirror that doesn't limit forward vision because you look over it rather than around it. The view rearward can be aided by extendable towing mirrors, a rear camera and for heavy mist mornings a power sliding rear window. We found the available towing mirrors work very well.
Pillars between the doors (called B-pillars) and the rear hand-hold on the pillar may yield an awkward blind spot for some drivers, but everyone should appreciate the windshield pillars (called A-pillars) shaped to help preserve forward vision. Relatively square shoulders on the hood make it easy to see the edges of the truck, a bonus for tight parking lots, plow operators, and squeezing between trees or rocks en route to outdoor recreation.
The F-150 is a rarity in modern pickups in that it offers two bed designs. The Flareside is shaped to mimic pickups of old, when the box walls were between the wheels and you could stand on the sides for loading. Ironically, the Flareside is more stylish than the Styleside bed. The standard Styleside bed is essentially a box with some character lines in the sheetmetal. It offers more space within than does the Flareside bed.
With all beds you can get a locking tailgate and tie-down points. On many models you also get a bed extender and tailgate step (rated 300 pounds); the tailgate step makes stepping into the bed but it makes the tailgate feel heavier than some petite drivers will want to open or close. Some models offer a box side step rated at 500 pounds; a pop-out, under-bed step behind the cab but we needed considerable effort to return it and wonder how it will work after grounding on a rocky trail, mud or snow thrown at it, or in freezing weather. Long bed models may be equipped with a Midbox enclosed storage space at the leading edge of the bed for 26 cubic feet of locked storage area, a great feature for stowing towing equipment and other gear. Refueling is done with Ford's capless filler system so you will never lose another gas cap.
Every 2009 F-150 except the Platinum has a horizontal three-bar aspect to the grille and the tailgate styling; the larger grille, stacked headlights and more heavily contoured hood all add to the imposing size, though it isn't as imposing as Dodge's forward-leaning grille setup. On higher-level models the chrome is considerable, and extends to the front tow loops on 4WD.
Apart from styling changes the two biggest changes for 2009 are the elimination of the reverse-opening rear access doors on the Regular Cab and a significantly longer SuperCrew that doesn't look that much bigger unless parked next to an earlier model.
The FX4 model has plenty of decals and real truck tires if you choose the 17-inch off-road tire option. The chassis on 4WD models doesn't have anything mounted much lower than the frame rails, but if you intend to use four-wheel drive for anything more than snow or muddy roads the skid plate package should be considered.
Ford has all bases covered inside the F-150, with plenty of patterns, textures and finishes, including multiple gauge cluster designs, and the choice of a 40/20/40 split-bench front seat or captain's chairs in many models. On those trucks with a bench seat, the middle passenger should be of a smaller size for both knee clearance and the narrow space between seat and belt brackets.
Mindful that you can't have everything for $21,000, the basic XL is quite respectable and a good value given a single option tab on a bigger pickup can be nearly half the XL's purchase price. Fleet drivers will appreciate that air conditioning is standard and the truck is quieter and smoother, in part due to a standard V8 where Dodge, GM, and Toyota use a V6.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Platinum is like a Lincoln Navigator with a bed. The King Ranch chairs may look like a fine saddle (and require the same maintenance in some climes), but you'll want to ensure the jeans are clean and spurs off before you climb into this cowboy clubhouse.
Virtually everything you might need is either standard or available, and much the same degree of luxury in a more subdued style can be found in Lariats, which follow a more eclectic approach to decor and make one wonder if seven colors and surface textures on a rear door alone might be one or two too many. The speaker grilles on high-line models that look like metal really are (with the three horizontal bar theme molded in), and in some cases the trim is real brushed aluminum. The wood is faux, perhaps to save trees.
The front bench is still split three ways: The center section flips down to reveal a console with storage and cup holders. The console is flat, so you can put a clipboard on top of it and it won't slide off until you stop, start or change direction quickly. Captain's chairs on FX and Lariat models, especially with power adjustment and the optional adjustable pedals, provide good driver positioning for virtually everyone. The seat bottoms may be lacking in thigh support for longer-legged drivers, and the headrests are aggressively tilted forward and may wear on neck muscles unless you have the seatback fairly reclined.
Front seat room is about what it was before but decreased hip room. However, the rear seats are as good (SuperCab) or better than before, the SuperCrew adding hiproom, headroom, and nearly four inches of rear legroom. It's a vast, spacious area for the three seats with a flat floor all the way across and full roll-down windows. On the down side, it could take a while to cool off in hot conditions, we were surprised to find no factory DVD rear entertainment available, and the floor mats cover only a third of the carpet by our tape measure.
The rear seat cushions lift up to stow vertically, with four grocery bag hooks on the underside of the wider driver-side seat and, if equipped, the subwoofer for the Sony sound system under the right rear seat; rear cabin storage seats-up amounts to nearly 58 cubic feet. With captain's chairs up front there are vents in the back of the center console. There are three tethers and two anchor sets for baby seats, outboard rear headrests rise enough to protect tall passengers, but there is no center rear headrest.
We sampled a couple of Lariats, one with buckets and white-stitched black leather, the other a 40/20/40 bench in tan leather; the lighter color interior looked richer, but also busier since it had dual colors for the dashboard where the black truck didn't. Either seat is comfortable, the advantage of the bucket being goodies like heating/cooling on higher trim models. Most of the touch points on Lariat felt good, with a sort of rubberized texture to the door armrests, but there is still plenty of hard plastic in pillar covers and lower doors to ease cleaning.
The cloth upholstery in the STX feels comfortable and durable; in temperature extremes we'd prefer it to the leather on the Lariat. Apart from seat coverings and the steering wheel, the STX doesn't feel overly budget conscious.
All models use the same basic dash layout, with tachometer to left (no marked redline), speedometer to right, and oil pressure, coolant temperature, fuel and transmission fluid temperature lined up between. On lower-level models the gauges are more traditional white-on-black and on higher-lines, silver faces with dark numbers that light up green and are often easier to read at night than in daylight. The ancillary gauges are quite lethargic so you need to heed warning lights even if a gauge doesn't quite agree.
Trucks with the Sony navigation/audio system have arguably simpler controls than those without it by virtue of the voice command, logical operation and system integration. Trucks without that option aren't bad, but even on the second-lowest-level STX we counted more than 40 white-on-black buttons on the center panel which could require some familiarization. Window switches are all lift-to-close but the power door lock bar is horizontal so if Rover puts his paw on the right part of the switch you can be locked out.
Bench seat models use a column-mounted shift lever, while most bucket seat models use a bigger console shift lever, both with a Tow/Haul mode. Although most trucks are six-speed automatics the shifter offers only D321 positions so you can't always pick the gear you want for towing or inclines. Liberal chrome on the console can produce some distracting glare.
Headlights and pedal adjustment are to the left, four-wheel drive and the integrated trailer brake controller are to the right. Four round omni-directional vents ensure airflow where you want it, front seatbelt anchors are height-adjustable, and our only ergonomic complaint was the lack of a sun visor that covered the length of the side glass.
The Sony navigation/sound system and Ford's SYNC system bring infotainment to a new level, integrating Bluetooth-enabled devices, 911 Assist, Vehicle Health report, Sirius travel link with real-time traffic, weather, 4500 movie theater listings and show times and 120 gas stations with fuel prices. Power points, a USB port and MP3 input jack are in the lower center dash. The Sony 700-watt 5.1 channel sound system provides very good sonic quality, even if the impact didn't feel like 700 watts. It has the usual assortment of graphics nonsense like the oxymoronic-titled audio visualizer, which we could live without.
Pickups without space are pointless and the F-150 won't disappoint. The Regular Cab is roomy enough to fit three adults across and has plenty of space for the miscellaneous debris and detritus that tends to accumulate in trucks. SuperCabs have a full-width back seat best-suited to kids and short rides for bigger adults since legroom is the squeeze point; it's similar in size and intent to the Chevy Silverado or GMC Sierra extended cab or the Titan King Cab. For larger families or routine four-passenger service, the SuperCrew's room and regular back doors will be welcome, with as many as 30 different places to put things.
The Ford F-150 is among the heavier trucks in its class, contributing to a solid feel and none of that empty metal box bang-and-clang that characterized pickups of old. There's an impression of substance and tight construction regardless of the road surface or the model.
What stands out most driving the 2009 F-150 is the new verve from the two extra gears in the transmission and that it feels quieter and smoother than its predecessor, which was already good by pickup standards and Ford attributes to ongoing refinement and the Quiet Steel laminate used in some body panels. Ford notes the F-150 Platinum as quieter inside than a Lexus LX450 at highway speeds and to our ears this is accurate. Granted, the LX450 was last produced 11 years ago and was a genuine four-wheel drive with solid axles at both ends; we believe the current LX570 to be a smoother, quieter and more expensive ride than an F-150 Platinum.
The two-valve, 248-hp 4.6-liter V8 is standard and able to tow a ski boat, utility trailer, small toy box, or a couple of tons of dirt. (Ford dropped the V6 engine for 2009.)
The primary reason to upgrade to the three-valve 4.6-liter (from the two-valve 4.6-liter) is because you get more of everything: Despite an extra 44 horsepower and 26 lb-ft of torque it has equal or better EPA fuel economy ratings than the two-valve engine because it comes with a six-speed automatic transmission. This makes the engine work less to accelerate and run slower at highway speeds; 70 mph at 2000 rpm with middling axle ratios.
The 5.4-liter V8 remains the top engine. Its power output is often erroneously reported as 320 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque; those ratings apply to E85 use where EPA Combined rating is 12 mpg. On gasoline, the 5.4-liter makes 310 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque and an EPA Combined rating of 16 mpg. Of all half-ton pickups Ford's 5.4-liter is the least powerful of the upgrade engines, slightly trailing the Nissan Titan and way behind the Dodge Hemi, GM 6-liter or 6.2-liter, and Toyota's 381-hp 5.7-liter. Only a GM with a four-speed automatic might be slower, so if you want a truly fast F-150 you'll have to consider aftermarket upgrades.
Both the four- and six-speed automatics work smoothly, anxious to get into that fuel-saving top gear as soon as possible; engaging Tow/Haul mode will stretch out the shift points and not require a carpet-flattening mash of the pedal to affect a downshift. On long descents or climbs where you might prefer to use fifth-gear instead of sixth you don't get the choice because the shifter offers just D321 positions; other half-ton pickups are superior in this respect.
Although similar to last year's architecture, the 2009 F-150 has a fully boxed frame so it is 10-percent more resistant to twist and one hundred pounds lighter. The front suspension has been upgraded to a dual ball-joint design pioneered and still used by BMW and found on the Expedition sport-utility, while the rear suspension continues with long leafs and outboard shocks.
The sheer mass of the F-150 combines with that architecture to deliver a very good ride (by pickup standards) and quiet composure. Sure, it will skip on bumpy corners and move around over dry wash scrabble at speed but it doesn't get upset or noisy. The steering is nicely weighted and requires little correction because of good directional stability. Longer wheelbases will still bob or pogo-stick on some expansion joints and expressway surfaces but it never becomes fatiguing.
Brakes get the job done with their ultimate performance based as much on tire choice and weight in the bed as anything else. Electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes are standard across the board. The FX4 offers a locking differential option for the best traction, and in many cases the suspension tuning on an FX4 produces the best ride quality over marginal roads and city potholes.
Some of the factors that aid visibility also hinder it. The tall stance of a pickup is good for more distant views but hides things behind the tall tailgate and this is a wide piece of equipment. Extendable towing mirrors include a flat upper element and separately adjustable wide-angle element for a superb view rearward and safe towing but they are big and will be easily smacked off if you forget about them. (One tester smacked a passenger-side mirror into another truck mirror at 40 mph with no visible damage, so the towing mirrors are quite durable.)
The rearview camera is good for the view behind the tall tailgate and on the navigation screen has colored lines to indicate the width of the truck and centerline for hitching a trailer; however, this display is not predictive and does not move the colored lines with the steering wheel so it applies only in straight reversing. Rear park sensors also aid maneuvering in tight quarters, raising the frequency of audible beeps as you move closer. You'll want to turn that off when backing up to a trailer or in other situations, but that involves going through a couple of menus on the information screen, more tedious than the simple defeat buttons used by Toyota and others.
The payload rating for the F-150 models varies from about 1,340 pounds to just over 3,000, but that includes occupants other than the driver. A construction crew of four 200-pounders in a SuperCrew might have just 700 pounds of rated capacity left for tools and materials. The highest gross combined rating (truck, trailer, cargo, passengers) for any 2009 F-150 is 17,100 pounds and these pickups are among the heaviest half-tons.
Maximum tow ratings for most F-150 models range from 11,000-11,300 pounds with the 5.4-liter V-8 and 3.73:1 axle ratio that might not available in the trim or in combination with the wheels you want. These are the highest tow ratings of any half-ton, though we tend to prefer staying below 9000 pounds as a maximum comfortable trailer weight for light-duty pickups.
The integrated trailer brake controller option (introduced on the Super Duty) is the ideal choice for smooth braking, but only with conventional electric drum trailer brakes; as with the majority of these systems the integrated controller is not certified for electro-hydraulic brakes. As mentioned, the available rear camera helps when hitching up a trailer.
The all-new Ford F-150 delivers a strong combination of style, interior comfort, performance, ride and hauling ability. With multiple choices in trim, drivetrains and body styles, there's an F-150 for every type of pickup owner.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale reported from Los Angeles after his test drive of several 2009 F-150 models.